Negotiating autonomy in capacity development: Addressing the inherent tension

B. Rajeshwari, Nandini Deo, Margit van Wessel

A central goal of capacity development is transforming participants into autonomous agents. However, there is often an inherent tension between capacity development and autonomy because capacity devel-opment programs are frequently set up to fill an externally predefined lack in capacity. In this article, we argue that this tension can be addressed when capacity development is set up to advance what we call ‘‘narrative autonomy” (Williams, 1997). Narrative autonomy centers on individuals’ narrative interpreta-tions as they reveal or create the meaning of their own identity and situation, creatively draw on avail-able materials, and discern courses of action true to these interpretations.

The advancement of narrative autonomy requires certain capacities and conditions. Expanding on existing participatory approaches that focus on capacity development occurring within relationships and informal processes, we show how capacity development programs can be set up to advance these capacities and conditions through the intricate relations between formal and informal processes. We illustrate our theoretical claims through an empirical study of a capacity development partnership program involving a feminist Delhi-based civil society organization and seven local partner organizations in the state of Jharkhand. This pro-gram targeted women who had been elected to village councils. We show how the program advanced elected women representatives’ narrative autonomy through informal relationships that undergirded for-mal capacity development, and how the formal training helped to provide a language for constructing these narratives and a context conducive to advancing autonomous action that was true to the women’s narratives. By

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Complementarities in CSO Collaborations: How Working with Diversity Produces Advantages

Margit van Wessel, Farhat Naz and Sarbeswar Sahoo

A commonly explored theme in international civil society organisation (CSO) collaborations is the dominance of Northern CSOs and how this impinges on Southern CSOs’ autonomy, but there is little work on the relative importance of different collaborations for Southern CSOs. This study examined complementarity as a new approach to understanding CSO collaboration. Seeking Southern perspectives, we examined the case of CSOs working on disaster risk reduction in India and developed a typology of complementarities in this domain.

The article considers the implications for understanding complemen-tarity in broader CSO collaborations. We find that con-structing collaborations through the lens of complementarity may facilitate capitalising on diversity among CSOs and help build collaborations that consider the domestic orientation of many Southern CSOs and reshape the roles of Northern CSOs as complementary rather than leading.

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